This article is excerpted from a talk delivered at the 2018 annual meeting of the Property and Freedom Society.
Ladies and gentlemen, the first task for any intellectual or ideological effort is to understand the environment surrounding it. Whether we like it or not, we live in a decidedly illiberal age: an age hostile to private property, individualism, civility, speech, academic freedom, culture, even to civilization itself. The spirit and tenor of our time are not at all conducive to liberal arguments; in fact such arguments are perverted into justifications for state action. Because of this sober reality we should resist the zeitgeist, and resist the language, narratives, issue framing, incivility, and purported egalitarian ends of the anti-intellectual landscape around us.
If you’ve read Murray Rothbard on the Progressive Era, you know he hated a reformer. And he especially hated a Yankee pietist reformer. No one embodied this kind of reformer like John Dewey, the psychologist who earned Rothbard’s wrath through his evangelical though secular zeal for saving the world through progress and statism.
Dewey had what Rothbard called a “seemingly endless” career, with significant influence– which he bolstered with frequent columns in The New Republic— a new magazine in 1914, created as an unholy alliance between big business and leftwing public intellectuals.
An astonishing article Dewey produced for The New Republic in 1917 bore the perfect title for our discussion today: “The Conscription of Thought.” Dewey, like his colleagues at the magazine, urged the US to enter the Great War in Europe, and they did everything they could to encourage a “war spirit” among stubbornly doubtful…